When fresh green vegetables arrived in Gelephu yesterday, the relief was there – on the face, in the eyes and in the voice. The thromde’s residents cherished it.
Southern Bhutan does not grow vegetables in summer. The climatic conditions don’t allow it. They depend on what is brought from the north. During normal times, green vegetables and chillies are the favourite chom (gift) to those living in the south. It is valued. It is vice versa in winter.
The restriction on the movement of vehicles and trade affected inter-dzongkhag trade or supply of perishable goods like vegetables. That is the dark side of a lockdown. The bright side is there are potentials for our farmers and those venturing into the oldest profession. If there is demand, it is only going to grow.
There is an emphasis on eating healthy. The importance of including green in our diet has been at the core of healthy living. Babies, children, others and even elders are encouraged to change their food habits. The advice is to cut down on carbs and improve on greens.
It would be wrong to interpret a tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity, but the ground reality since the first confirmed case in March has shown us that tragedies can be a good lesson. The demand for vegetables is one prospect. It offers the opportunity to draw on the current circumstances to plan our priorities.
Food self-sufficiency had been our dream for a long time. As we chased economic growth and development, we forgot this priority. Agriculture was and is still the biggest sector that employs the most. Its share to the gross domestic product, the yardstick for growth, even if we were reminded it is not the right yardstick, has dwindled so has the budget allocation.
Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot live without food, the very basic need. It came as a cruel reminder of our priorities. Not many complained last night when there was a blackout for about an hour. Many complained when vegetables were not available for a day.
If we can learn from the current pandemic, there is a huge scope – scope to grow our own food and engage a lot of people in the sector. Not long before the lockdown, the Prime Minister’s Office initiated a “Healthy Drukyul” campaign. It could not pick up pace because of the pandemic. From the demand for greens, the campaign is already on the right track.
The novel coronavirus, which caused the Covid-19 disease, experts say, will be around for a long time. At home, the Prime Minister is already warning us of Covid-20 or Covid-22, hinting that the disease will reappear, perhaps in a different way. In other words, we have time to prepare. In a crisis, as we experienced, it was essentials that we are after.
We could still build bridges, roads, open more banks and start new hydro projects, but food is what we will be after all the time, crisis or no crisis. We didn’t import vegetables for a long time now. If the shortage can be met, throughout the year, we are fulfilling a dream that our great leaders recognised decades ago.